So I’ve managed thus far to continue blogging without offering too much of a description about my time up in Northern Kenya. I decided it’s finally time to remedy that. I’ll have more to say about my time in subsequent posts, but for now, enjoy. I decided that the best way to decide what is relevant is based on what my friends have asked me thus far, so here goes:
Q: Dude so what where you doing up there for 3 weeks or however long it was?
A: I was doing a couple things, but basically, each day followed the same pattern. I would wake up, and at some point in the morning (we were always set to start around 9, usually started at 11), our Mentors, the staff based in Northern Kenya that oversee the businesses we work with, would lead a training session. Our women have started savings groups, where once a month, they contribute a certain amount of money to a group account (realizing now this process merits its own blog post!), but once they have accumulated a good sum of money, the group can effectively serve as a bank, and lend money out to members needing a large sum. The training the mentor gave was about how to lend responsibly.
After sitting through this training (and having it translated to me by “Uncle Sam”, one of our Kenyan staff) my American co-worker and I would ask questions of the savings groups, ranging from the mechanical (what village do you meet in? How much do you save each month?) to the more behavioral (How do you get this money? Is the fact there is a set amount each month helpful, or a burden?) Then, once finished with this, I would interview each of the mentors, to try and figure out what parts of our program can be improved in the future.
Then, I would be responsible in many of the villages for doing some surveying. Sometimes it was a “spot check”, a survey the mentor has already done that we would do as well to confirm their reliability, and sometimes it was a longer impact assessment. The standard operating procedure for this was we would first talk to the mentor to ask where the village was in relation to town, then Uncle Sam, Ngure (the driver) and I (and sometimes the rest of the crew, depending on our schedule) would drive out to a village, anyway from maybe 2-15 km away (I’ve gone metric! You should also know, it was around 35 degrees most of the time). Uncle Sam would get out of the car, and ask the people if the person was in fact in the village. If they were, he would beckon me over. If not, he would climb in the car, and we’d drive off to some other village.
After surveying, we would head on to the next town where we work. We would get there, and depending on the setup, would either go to the Guest Lodge or set up camp. We would connect with the mentor in the town to make sure everything was set to go the next day, then it was some combination of tea/soccer/Swahili studying/reading/dinner/sleep. Wake up the next day. Repeat.
Q: Where did you guys stay when you were up there?
A: It depended on the location, and varied wildly. In a few of the larger
places, we would stay in rooms that, while often quite basic, would also be considered “modern”. I think I spent…6 of the 22 nights in places like this, or something like that. Then, in some places, I think it depended most on if other NGOs also worked in the area, we would stay in guest houses, which are huts made of sticks covered with cloths and cots. I spent maybe another 5 or 6 nights in this sort of place. Then finally, in the rest of the locations, we were camping!
Q: Did you see that Ichiro Suzuki got traded to the Yankees?
A: Yes, sadly.
Q: Dude so like, you had a dude with a gun right? Was it like dangerous?
A: It’s a good question, and one maybe that I don’t honestly have a good sense of. I can say that it certainly wasn’t something that stressed me out. True, nearly every herder up north tends to his goats or cows with a rifle on his shoulder, but it was hard to be too worried when Semeji (our security guy) would have his head out the window, and would be cracking jokes with them. Also true, there’s something very sobering about a mentor explaining that a group of people couldn’t come today because they couldn’t find an armed guard to take them there in time. However, I think my Kenyan Co-workers did a good job of making me feel very at ease.
The way in which I got the best sense of the relative safety of the places was by whether or not my Kenyan co-workers would offer me the chance to go with them when they did things. “Do you want to come with me as I put up job notices?” Probably a sign the town was pretty safe. “Do you want to go meet some friends with me?” Also a good sign. “I’m going into town, I don’t want to disturb you from your Swahili, why don’t you stay here?” Probably suggests Songa isn’t the safest town ever. Once, I protested. “No no it’s fine, I’m happy to come.” Was followed by the response of “Well, Semeji is with the car now, so I think it’s probably best you stay at the camp.” Fair enough. From then on, I just went places when I was invited, and didn’t suggest that I come when I wasn’t offered the chance.
Q: When do you next go?
A: Not entirely sure. I’ll be headed up in about two weeks to one of the larger towns in Northern Kenya, Marsabit, for job interviews. Then in September, I’ll be in a town called Archers Post for a week, that is pseudo-Northern Kenya (it’s the town furthest south in which we work). Beyond that, not too sure. I think the organization is still figuring out when it makes the most sense for me to head up there.